Free Will and Determinism

Let us begin with answering what determinism is, and then turn to two notions of free will, one that is compatible with determinism and one that is not. I think you’ll find that the version of free will that is incompatible with determinism lines up better with our common or everyday notion of free will.

Determinism is the view that the state of the world at an earlier time determines or is causally sufficient for the state of the world at all later times. The state of the world is understood to pick out all features of the world and interactions in it. For example, under determinism, a westerly wind hitting the sails of a boat in just the way it does with the boat weighing what it does and the ocean giving it the buoyancy it has and so forth is sufficient for the sail boat to change its trajectory in just the way it does. Here we have a world state, the totality of the facts surrounding the boat, being sufficient for a subsequent world state, roughly all those same facts except the updated facts concerning the trajectory of the boat.

Sometimes laws of nature are included in deterministic formulations. For these, we can simply update our formulation to say that the state of the world at an earlier time, alongside the laws of nature that operate in or over the state of the world, determines or is causally sufficient for the state of the world at all later times. (As an aside, I find the notion of laws of nature to be redundant in that a full description of the state of the world will include a description of how things causally interact with one another; furthermore, I would not be sympathetic to the thought that laws of nature stand apart from the things themselves to guide them from the outside as if such laws were things in the world that causally interacted with things that are not laws. In short, we should not in general view things as being, on the one hand, some object, and, on the other, a law of nature that informs how it behaves. That is, a singular thing is not plural.)

Another way of stating determinism is with my own pet formulation: Given the position of all things and their nature and interactions with one another, nothing about their future position and nature is unsettled.

Under such formulations, indeterminism, as laid out in my Indeterministic Causal Relations post, is barred. Recall that an indeterministic causal relation has to do with the effects of a cause being probabilistic, in that one and only one of its possible effects will occur. Being probabilistic means that each of these possible effects has a probability value where the values of each and every possible effect adds up to one, and the total probability space has to do with one and only one possible effect actually occurring.

The reason that such a picture is barred under determinism is that including an indeterministic cause of this sort in the world state would indicate that the world state is insufficient for any particular future effect. In other words, the facts of the current world state would not be enough to arrive at all the future facts of the world state, specifically where the effects are probabilistic. Of an indeterministic cause, we can ask “does one effect or does another effect occur in the future, from the current causes?” Such effects will have to be brought out in the future, and are not currently available or set by the present items. Such facts belong to the future and are not contained in the present, aside from the fact that one of the cause’s effects in the set of possible effects will occur to the exclusion of the others.

Compatibilist Free Will

Under Compatibilism, free will is often put in terms of wanting or desire. You are free to do something if you want to do it, and if your desire were different, you would want, and thus do, something else. This isn’t to say that there is a guarantee of doing whatever you want, but just that the change of desire would change what you are currently doing. Perhaps you’d simply end up not doing whatever you are initially doing, given the new desire. The compatibilist notion is more generally put in the form of a counterfactual: had you wanted to do something else, you could have done so. The sense of ‘could’ here is just that wanting differently is sufficient for acting differently, for if it were not, then you were not really free to act differently. Other forms of compatibilism also fit in reasons for action. So being free to act can also indicate that had you reasoned to act differently, you could have done differently. Yet another form may involve acting based on what seems best. So whatever the basis for action is, in general the compatibilist can use that term that is the basis for action in the form of: had your [term for basis for action: e.g. desires, reasons, experience of what seems best] been different, you could have done differently.  Such is the notion of free will for the compatiblist in general.

Notice that the compatibilist is compatible with determinism (indeed this is where their name comes from). This is because we are often free in the sense of doing what we want or reason to do, and this is true even if our desires and reasons are entirely determined by prior causes. All that matters under compatibilism is that what we decide to do lines up with what we want or reason to do. If desires or reasons lining up with actions were all there were to our notion of free will, then free will and determinism would indeed be fully compatible.

Libertarian Free Will

Unfortunately for compatibilism, there is more to our notion of free will than just desires or reasons lining up with action. For example, notice how we often desire incompatible courses of action when we are feeling indecisive. Do I eat pizza or cheeseburgers? Do I wait a little longer before eating anything? I can have desires (and reasons) for each of these choices and more. How might the compatibilist handle competing desires and reasons?

It would seem the only recourse for the compatibilist is to say that, no matter what, the most desirous choice, or the seemingly best reason, wins in the end. Such a position is not always plausible. For example, sometimes people act irrationally and against one’s most desirous choice, yet this should not automatically indicate that such a course of action is not free. Indeed, it may seem to be revealing of an underlying freedom.

The more prominent problem here for the compatibilist is the consideration that free will does not always depend on desires or reasons at all. Such things are thought to merely influence decision rather than strictly determine them.

The thought behind free will is not to be that decisions are without desires or reasons but that, given the same set of reasons and desires, the decision nevertheless could have turned out differently. Such is my formulation of free will, one we might consider to be of the libertarian view of free will. To put it another way, where the formulation is explicitly anti-compatibilist-free-will: we sometimes come to think after a choice, that despite choosing one thing, we could have chosen something else, everything else being as they were.

I strongly suspect that such a formulation fits in well with what one has in mind when speaking about acting of one’s own free will.

It is difficult to see how such a formulation of free will could be compatible with determinism. Since the state of the world is sufficient for all subsequent states of the world under determinism, the libertarian view of free will holds that choices that affect the world state differently could be, regardless of any change in the world state. That is, some world state W may precede some choice C which affects the world state W to be a new one, CW. Yet the same world state W may also precede a choice inconsistent with C, C2, which would affect W to be the new world state C2W. So W would not be sufficient for CW, particularly when C2W is what follows (or for C2W when CW is what follows).

The sort of causation just delineated is possible, despite being typically thought of as lacking any sort of coherent causal model. In my next post, I plan to explicitly model the form of this causation involved. indeed, you may already be able to see how we might build on our indeterministic model of causation to model libertarian free will.

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55 thoughts on “Free Will and Determinism

  1. If I can truthfully say, “I can choose A, or, I can choose B, today”, then tomorrow I can also truthfully say that “I could have chosen A, or, I could have chosen B, yesterday”. This is not a metaphysical issue, but simply the way our language operates.

    The context of words like “can”, “option”, “possibility”, and “choice” is the imagination. They come into play when we encounter a problem or issue that we need to resolve. We imagine different ways that we might settle the issue. We imagine how each of those possibilities might turn out if we chose to implement it. Finally, we make our choice, implement it, and it Based upon these calculations, we choose the option that seems best to us at that time.

    Whenever someone asks, “Could you have done otherwise?”, we answer “Yes, because I had two options to choose from”.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Marvin.

      “If I can truthfully say, ‘I can choose A, or, I can choose B, today’, then tomorrow I can also truthfully say that ‘I could have chosen A, or, I could have chosen B, yesterday’. This is not a metaphysical issue, but simply the way our language operates.”

      What do you say is not a metaphysical issue?—The way that the second saying follows from the first? Perhaps so, if I follow what you mean by being a metaphysical issue. I think this is a logical property of the language. I may be missing a simple point. Or do you mean to answer why people in general talk about what they could have chosen, and that you answer that the reason is not to give a metaphysical view? If so, I agree people are not sharing their theories about free will when they speak about what they could have chosen.

      My post is metaphysical in the typical sense in that it is about the nature of determinism (answering what it is), and then how it is incompatible with the specific sort of indeterminism I expound, as well as about the nature of free will according to the compatibilist, and then free will according to the libertarian. Do you align yourself with any of these views, or none of the above?

      I think I understand the rest of what you say to be about how we make choices. I see it as saying in part that we calculate what we choose based upon “the option that seems best to us at that time.” This is a respectable view, and there is perhaps some room for interpretation for the notion of “based upon”. Would you agree that what sometimes occurs is that you have some choices, make one choice, A, and yet believe or feel or think afterwards that, everything being the same (besides the choice itself), you could have chosen B?

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      • I’ve decided to call myself a “hard compatibilist”. By that I mean that when both determinism and free will are correctly defined, they are simultaneously true in the same event.

        I presume perfectly reliable causation at all three levels. Every event that ever happens is the reliable result of some combination of physical, biological, or rational causation. Because I am a biological organism, driven to survive, thrive, and reproduce, my behavior is “goal-directed” or “purposeful”. Because I am an intelligent species, I can imagine more than one way to achieve these goals, I can estimate how each option is likely to turn out, and, accordingly, I will choose the option that seems best to me at the time.

        Because my choice is reliably determined by my own purposes and my own reasons, it is authentically a choice of my own free will, and, it is authentically deterministic. Both facts are demonstrated to be simultaneously true in the same event. Therefore, they must be compatible.

        The only way that they can possibly appear incompatible would be if someone made one of two mistakes: either they defined determinism as “the absence of free will” (hard determinist fallacy), or, they defined free will as “the absence of determinism” (libertarian fallacy).

        Are you making either of those errors?

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      • Well, apparently I have not made either of those errors, since I have neither defined free will in terms of an absence of determinism nor determinism as an absence of free will.

        But perhaps you’d also be uncomfortable with my definitions of determinism logically implying the rejection free will or vice versa—Or more specifically, the rejection of determinism or free will as you conceive of it. So how do you conceive of these? First, I gather that determinism for you is reliable causation.

        One potential issue with this as a definition for determinism is that an effect that occurs more than 50% of the time given a cause might be considered reliable. Would this always mean it is deterministic? If so, then probabilistic causes can be considered deterministic. For example, consider the Geiger counter that is connected to a bomb that Anscombe discusses. When it blows up at a certain time was it determined to blow up at that time? Not if what the Geiger counter measures is indeterministic, occurring with a probability higher than 50%. However, it would be reliable that the Geiger counter reads what it does to make the bomb explode. There is some quantum phenomena that is indeterministic like this. All that I mean is that we may want to have a determinism/indeterminism distinction that goes beyond being merely reliable.

        However, granting the definition, it would seem that libertarian free will, as I defined it, is a sort of determinism, again as you define it, in some cases but not in others. This would depend on whether or not the particular choice was reliable to come up in some instance, given the same set of reasons or desires. Perhaps an unreliable choice is made at some time, as when one acts irrationally. So the choice is made, and the choice causes the action, but the choice was not exactly reliable, and so was not deterministic, at least in this case. So at the least your definition for determinism leaves it open for a libertarian choice to be non-deterministic in some cases. Do you think this is a problem? It shouldn’t be one since quantum phenomena can also fail to pass reliability tests (e.g. if an event occurs with a probability of less than half). So not all causation would be deterministic.

        For free will, I gather that you define this as (roughly) imagining different ways to achieve a goal and then choosing the best (or seemingly best) way. Do people always choose what is best or seemingly best? What about a person who wants to fail, or who wants to watch the world burn, or who acts irrationally? What about someone who does something precisely because it is opposite of what is best to do? Setting aside these potential issues, I see this view as roughly fitting the compatibilist definition above (which shares those same potential issues). Let me modify that definition somewhat to include the best way to achieve something: Compatibilist Free Will says that had you wanted to do something else, or had you reasoned differently, or had you imagined a different set of ways to do something, you could have done something else. And as I said in my post, compatibilism is compatible with determinism, as I defined it.

        However, I also think the notion of free will goes farther. Hence, given those same desires, reasons, and ways to achieve something, there is this notion that I nonetheless could have chosen differently from what I did choose. This isn’t yet to say that the notion is true (that it lines up with how things are), just that we do have such a notion of free will as this.

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      • I view randomness and chaos to be problems of prediction rather than problems of reliable causation. And I presume that, if we we could view quantum events as clearly as we can view the physical events that emerge from them, that we’d find reliable causation there as well (but we’d need to add a separate class of causation, giving us 4 levels: quantum, physical, biological, and rational).

        I would view indeterminism as a threat to freedom. We cannot control what we cannot predict, and freedom implies we are able to “do” something.

        So, we actually improve our freedom, to carry out our “will”, by understanding the causes of the events we would like to bring about or avoid. The less reliable the causation, the less control we can have, and the less freedom we will have.

        That’s why it’s much simpler to me if we just start out by presuming perfectly reliable cause and effect. Keep in mind that this is a mixture of physical, biological, and rational. For example, I feel hungry (biological), so I decide (rational) to go to the fridge to get something to eat. On the way, my toe catches the rug (physical) causing me to fall and scrape my arm (biological). So I decide (rational) I’d better clean it and put a bandage on the wound (biological), before continuing to the fridge.

        Every event is presumed to be the reliable result of some combination of physical, biological, and rational causation. Thus, every event remains “causally necessary” or “causally inevitable”.

        But here’s the key: My mental process of choosing is the sole source of my deliberate acts. There is no other object in the physical universe that is making my choice for me or compelling me to act against my will.

        And, besides that, what I will inevitably do is exactly identical to what I would have done anyway.

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      • “I view randomness and chaos to be problems of prediction rather than problems of reliable causation. And I presume that, if we we could view quantum events as clearly as we can view the physical events that emerge from them, that we’d find reliable causation there as well.”

        Very well. But if I disagree with you (provided I understand you right) and say that there are some causal relations that are irreducible to determinism, what do I mean by saying this? I don’t mean just that there are some causal relations that are unreliable, since indeterministic causal relations can be reliable yet non-deterministic. Yet saying this is contradictory under your definition of determinism. But I’m not making any contradiction. I think reliability is not a helpful definition for what determinism means, particularly when contrasting it with indeterminism.

        I also think that your own view makes sense as something like this: because determinism is true, all causation is reliable. So the way you are able to hold that all causes are reliable is that you already hold a deterministic outlook. But determinism, again, does not mean the same thing as reliable causation, because indeterministic causes can also be reliable.

        “I would view indeterminism as a threat to freedom. We cannot control what we cannot predict, and freedom implies we are able to ‘do’ something.”

        I agree Indeterminism is a threat to our ability to control. Luckily it pops up only in a few crevices of the universe. It is not found in the things we wish to control in practical life except, tellingly, in people. Think about our ability to control people or predict what they will do next in everyday circumstances. Our knowledge on this is fuzzy at best in most instances and can indicate causal processes in decision making that are indeterministic.

        “So, we actually improve our freedom, to carry out our ‘will’, by understanding the causes of the events we would like to bring about or avoid. The less reliable the causation, the less control we can have, and the less freedom we will have.”

        Agreed for the most part.

        “That’s why it’s much simpler to me if we just start out by presuming perfectly reliable cause and effect. Keep in mind that this is a mixture of physical, biological, and rational. For example, I feel hungry (biological), so I decide (rational) to go to the fridge to get something to eat. On the way, my toe catches the rug (physical) causing me to fall and scrape my arm (biological). So I decide (rational) I’d better clean it and put a bandage on the wound (biological), before continuing to the fridge.”

        Does perfectly reliable = The effect/result always occurs given the cause? Every time you feel hungry you go to the fridge to get something to eat?

        “But here’s the key: My mental process of choosing is the sole source of my deliberate acts. There is no other object in the physical universe that is making my choice for me or compelling me to act against my will.”

        Agreed. But what is your will? Is it free? If your will determines just one course of action given the particular circumstance it is in, how is that freedom?

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      • Let me start at the bottom of your note:

        “Will” is a specific intent for the immediate or distant future. An intent for the immediate future would be my intent to respond to your last comment. An intent for the distant future might be one’s plans for a summer vacation, or one’s last “will” and testament (one’s intentions for distributing one’s assets upon death).

        “Will” is usually chosen. I’m hungry now, so what “will” I do? “Will” I make a salad? Or “will” I have an apple? Hmm. Okay, I “will” have an apple. Having chosen what I “will” do, I have set my “intent” for the immediate future, which leads me to go to the fridge and get an apple to eat.

        “Free will” is literally a freely chosen “will”. Was I free to choose for myself what I “will” do? Or was I coerced by someone holding a literal or figurative “gun to my head” to eat a cantaloupe instead? (Example: “Damn it, Marvin, you bought that cantaloupe a week ago! You’ll eat it instead of the apple, or you’ll sleep on the couch tonight!”)

        “Free will” is when someone is free to decide for themselves what they will do, free of coercion or other undue influence. This definition is all that is required for moral or legal responsibility. It does not require that the choice be “uncaused”. It does not require anything “supernatural”. It only requires that the person made the choice for himself or herself.

        The choice can even be causally inevitable, from any prior point in eternity, and still be authentically made by the person himself/herself. And that’s why determinism and free will are compatible.

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      • I think I agree with most of that. What you say is illuminating about the structure of the will so bravo!

        You lay out will in terms of intent, and then say it is “usually chosen”, such as in what you will eat, and then that it is free insofar as it is without coercion. I agree coercion indicates that one hasn’t acted freely. Coercion has to do with being forced into something that you don’t want to do (or do you mean something else?). There’s none of that in our typical everyday choices.

        “’Free will’ is when someone is free to decide for themselves what they will do, free of coercion or other undue influence. This definition is all that is required for moral or legal responsibility.”

        I should mention that the first line here is no definition of free will at all, for what is “being free for themselves to decide what they will do”? From what you say above, I think you mean something like: Free will is when someone intends to do something without coercion (this fits the legal definition as far as I know!).

        But (what do you think?) we should probably add that the person gets to accomplish what they intend, for what is free about intending to eat an apple but being blocked from doing so? If a kid swipes the apple from your hand, do we still say you not only ate the apple, but freely ate it? So: Free will is when someone does what they intend without coercion. What do you think of this definition (this is the compatibilist definition, btw)?

        “It does not require that the choice be ‘uncaused’. It does not require anything ‘supernatural’. It only requires that the person made the choice for himself or herself.”

        What definitions require that a choice be uncaused or supernatural? Is this how you view libertarian free will? I will get into the causal structure of libertarian free will in the next post, but I’m happy to share a bit about how it should not be considered uncaused or supernatural, to know what you think.

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      • There are two definitions of “free will” in most dictionaries (I assume “most” from the following 3 examples):

        Free Will
        Mirriam-Webster on-line:
        1: voluntary choice or decision ‘I do this of my own free will’
        2: freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention

        Short Oxford English Dictionary:
        1 Spontaneous will, inclination to act without suggestion from others.
        2 The power of directing one’s own actions unconstrained by necessity or fate.

        Wiktionary:
        1. A person’s natural inclination; unforced choice.
        2. (philosophy) The ability to choose one’s actions, or determine what reasons are acceptable motivation for actions, without predestination, fate etc.

        The first definition in each case is the one I’m paraphrasing as “to decide for oneself what one will do, free of coercion or other undue influence”.

        The second definition is … well it is ridiculous. But if you wish to explain or defend it …

        I don’t think I can go along with “free to do what one desires”, because someone who is trying to quit smoking wants freedom to choose to do something other than what he desires. So I’m sticking with freedom to choose for myself what I will do.

        In your example of the kid knocking the apple out of my hand, he is choosing what I will do, and forcing me to do his will rather than my own. The only reason it isn’t coercive is because I can easily overcome his force with my own.

        Oh, and since I’m the compatibilist, I get to say what the compatibilist definition of free will is. 🙂

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      • Technical but important point:

        A good definition involves not repeating terms that are in the thing to be defined. So it’s not best to define free will in terms of freedom or its synonyms, for example, since we should explain in what way something is free or else what conditions need to be in place in order for a person to qualify as free or unfree.

        In the M-W, definition, note how ‘free will’ is just synonymously repeated, first as ‘voluntary choice’, and then as ‘voluntary decision.’ That’s not illuminating about what these further terms mean. The SOED says similarly with ‘spontaneous will’, and then entirely fails, I think, by first putting will in terms of an inclination (red flag #1), and then implying that there cannot be anyone suggesting anything to you (red flag #2). Cover your ears when deciding who to marry! And because my inclination is to sleep at night, when I fight this by pulling an all-nighter, I am apparently violating my free will according to both SOED and Wiktionary. So whose definitions are ridiculous now!? But the purpose of dictionary definitions is usually to point you in the right direction or give a synonym, not to explain the underlying concepts. That’s our job as philosophers, I would hope.

        So in light of this, I don’t want you to go along with “free to do what one desires” as a definition or even approximation of compatibilist free will, but rather that you sometimes indeed do what you desire (or reason, or imagine doing). (I really should remind myself that the preferred compatibilist formulation is actually a counterfactual, see above, but this one mentioned here follows from that counterfactual)

        Now, you have provided a good definition in “to decide for oneself what one will do, free of coercion or other undue influence”. I noticed the lack of a ‘free’ term at the start (bravo!) and the one ‘free of’ you do use means, of course, ‘without’: i.e. without coercion or other undue influence.

        An area to get clear about in your definition is about how or in what conditions a decision is without coercion and/or what ones with, and without undue influence and/or with. Do you think there’s a way to do this without saying something like that coercion involves getting someone to do what they don’t want to do?

        Another area may be in explaining the phrase ‘to decide for oneself.’ Isn’t this just deciding for one’s own desires and reasons? If it isn’t, and if decisions can come about regardless of one’s desires and reasons, then what determines the decision, O determinist?

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      • The word “free” by itself only means “the absence of some constraint”. It only has a clear meaning when that constraint is clearly implied or understood. And it only has relevance when the constraint is something that can be present or absent.

        For example, a slave may be set free (from his master), a bird may be set free (from its cage), the bank may offer you a free toaster (free of charge) for opening an account with them, in modern democracies citizens enjoy freedom of speech (free from political censorship), and so on.

        So, in defining “free will” as “a person deciding for themselves what they will do, free of coercion or other undue influence”, we are not defining “free” or “will”, so the use of these terms in the definition does not introduce circularity. They are defined separately elsewhere. (For “will” see my prior comments in this thread, For ”free” see the top of this one.)

        Free will is literally a freely chosen “will”. The “free of coercion or other undue influence” makes explicit the types of relevant constraints that “freely choosing what one will do” may be subject to. And, we can find separate definitions for “coercion”, “undue”, and so on in the dictionary as well.

        Semantics is an area of philosophy, but, as William James pointed out, the meaning of our terms is best understood by observing how they are used in normal operation. And that’s what our dictionary writers explicitly attempt to do.

        What determines our decision? We do. How we determine our choice is through a process of mental deliberation: multiple options are reviewed, some criteria for comparative evaluation is applied to each, and the option that seems best to us at the time is selected. This process of deliberation is the final prior cause of our “deliberate” acts.

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      • A dictionary is a good place to start if you are really unsure about your target, but a less-than-educated place to end. Such definitions are usually entirely irrelevant when trying to get at necessary or sufficient conditions or features. The goal is understanding. Understanding is had by doing definitions well. This involves being clear about the terms used. I don’t think you give me enough credit for how I completely demolished at least two of those definitions by taking seriously the terms ‘inclination’ and ‘suggestions’. Does being a pragmatist mean that you are fine when certain areas of a definition contradict other areas, or lead to problems of understanding as soon as you get clear about what the terms mean?

        “And, we can find separate definitions for ‘coercion’, ‘undue’, and so on in the dictionary as well.”

        So we’d run into the same problems as above? I think you are dodging the issue here, and I have no idea why: what’s wrong with simply defining coercion as being forced to do what you don’t want to do, at least as a starting point (this may even be one dictionary definition for all I know)? Actually, what else is there to the notion?

        What you say here is good: “What determines our decision? We do. How we determine our choice is through a process of mental deliberation: multiple options are reviewed, some criteria for comparative evaluation is applied to each, and the option that seems best to us at the time is selected. This process of deliberation is the final prior cause of our ‘deliberate’ acts.”

        This isn’t a bad account of decision-making. I’d want a little more about how something ‘seems best’, but I understand the difficulty of getting clear about this. The reason being, from my point of view, I suspect that what seems best is usually an ad hoc label we put on any decision made, regardless of how it was made, or really even whether it was the best decision considering the circumstances. We sometimes think something like—well I made that decision, so I must of had some good reason for it, even one that made it the best course of action to take of any I considered. But in some cases, the decision seems to be capable of reversing, all else being the same (e.g. a quick decision to either eat now or wait another two minutes and finish typing; I feel it’s up in the air sometimes, and my after-the-fact thought is that I could have done differently, even if everything else remained the same; note: I may be wrong about such an assessment of what I am able to do, even if I do consider it that way).

        The libertarian can agree with your process of decision making. To draw a distinction between libertarianism and compatibilism here, the relevant question, I think, is this: given what you say that “how we determine our choice is through a process of mental deliberation: multiple options are reviewed, some criteria for comparative evaluation is applied to each, and the option that seems best to us at the time is selected”, then what would need to be different, if anything, in order for the decision to come out differently?

        The libertarian answers that (at least sometimes) nothing about the reviewing of options, or of criteria, or of comparisons needs to be different in order for the decision to be different. The compatibilist, on the other hand, answers that one of those conditions must be different for the decision to be different.

        If you want to ( 🙂 ), tell me which answer suits your view.

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  2. Well, this should be interesting. One of the things I’ve been curious about is how is Libertarian free will any different from the ordinary free will as “deciding for oneself what one will do, when free of coercion or other undue influence”. It is my opinion that the “hard determinists” have certain myths about you folk and what you think free will is. I think there is one correct definition of free will and one correct definition of determinism, and that the two concepts are compatible enough to be observed in the same event.

    But to address your questions:

    o My point in listing the dictionary definitions was to clarify that there were two distinct definitions in use. One by us ordinary folk and one by the crazy people…I mean the philosophers. I’ll stand behind my definition, but I don’t plan to defend those in the dictionary. I think the intent of definition 1 is captured in mine. Besides, I like to believe that, when push comes to shove, I can operationally define any term that I use.

    o Autonomy in the SOED lists “freedom of will” as its 2nd definition, so they would be synonyms, but not necessarily identical.

    o Coercion as “being forced to do something you don’t want to do” is fine. This would also imply, “being forced to do something that you didn’t or wouldn’t choose to do”.

    o We can make a list of other undue influences if necessary. The list would not necessarily be complete, but should give the underlying notion the clarity required to assess other influences that may come up as due or undue. Basically, it would be any extraordinary influence sufficient to claim control of your choice, effectively denying your ability to choose for yourself. Coercion is also an undue influence, but is listed separately because it is the one that everyone immediately understands.

    o “Seems best” refers to the result of using the criteria you chose to make your choice. Different people will apply different criteria, according to their personal values. The issue here is not which choice is objectively better, but rather the one that appears better to the chooser. The point being that the chooser is responsible for the choice.

    o Choices may be primed by prior choices, which can result in habitual choices in future, similar circumstances.

    o Choices of equal value can be made randomly, by flipping a coin (however, the result of the flip will be determistically caused by physical forces involved in the flipping process).

    o When saying that the choice will always be the same, given the same person, the same issue, and the same circumstances, the “circumstances” becomes the catch-all for all changes that are not in the person or the issue. For example, if you’d be equally happy with either choice, then the coin flip would be the determining factor. The coin would have to come up the same as it did last time in order to meet the “same circumstances” test.

    o Question for you: Why would you make the other choice?

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    • When freely choosing between one course of action or another, there are, it would seem anyway, always reasons for each (otherwise we’d wonder whether it’s really a choice to make). For example, in quitting to go eat, the reasons include satisfying hunger, taking a break, experiencing something delicious, and maybe some other reasons that escape me. In the option to continue typing, the reasons include that I’m completing something I will eventually have to finish anyway (or want to finish), that I may lose a train of thought if I don’t continue, that I being productive now, that it’s fun to think. So making one or the other choice has its reasons that I can point back to as the reason why I made my choice after I make it.

      There is another level of why-questioning here, such as why I made one choice given its reasons for making it rather than the other one. For this question, the libertarian position is that sometimes the answer goes no further than that I took up one choice (and its reasons) instead of the other. I might have taken up the other one, but I didn’t. And there is no reason for why I didn’t beyond that it was not the choice I took up.

      ” * Choices of equal value can be made randomly, by flipping a coin . . . ”

      ” * When saying that the choice will always be the same, given the same person, the same issue, and the same circumstances, the ‘circumstances’ becomes the catch-all for all changes that are not in the person or the issue. For example, if you’d be equally happy with either choice, then the coin flip would be the determining factor. The coin would have to come up the same as it did last time in order to meet the ‘same circumstances’ test.”

      Coin-flipping is an interesting consideration. I take it that people flip coins when disputing what to do as a group, but I am not too familiar with doing it to make individual choices. But I immediately thought that there might be a neural corollate to this where the brain makes a random choice that is to be identified as part of the choice you end up making.

      And, just to clarify, I take the circumstances of a choice to be all elements that causally produce the resulting choice (and, it should go without saying, that are not identical with the choice itself). So when I choose to get up and eat, the circumstances are just whatever those causal elements are that come together to produce that choice. I am also excluding any causal elements that produce those causal elements that produce the choice (Im not concerned with the whole causal history, just those elements that are the immediate cause). I think I see what you mean, I just hope this clarifies what I meant.

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      • Sounds like ordinary free will to me: deciding for yourself what you will do, free of coercion or other undue influence.

        There may be, as you said, other coincidental causes in play, which might tip a scale that was more or less evenly balanced. Those would be situations where one might flip a coin, because the choices are equally good or equally bad.

        Now, I may presume perfectly reliable cause and effect in the coincidental causes, and you may presume that coincidental causes are truly random or chaotic. In either case, they only come into play where you lack clear reasons for making one choice rather than the other.

        So, generally speaking, your choosing is a deterministic event, where the outcome is reliably caused, but the most meaningful and relevant cause is you. The choice serves your beliefs and values, your purposes and reasons, and is the product of your own thoughts and feelings.

        Now, whether this choosing event takes place in the physical material of your brain, or in some spiritual structure of your own imagination, does not change the fact that it was you that made the choice.

        And even if all the factors are perfectly reliable, and your choice is inevitable, from any prior point in eternity, it remains an empirical fact that it was you that performed the choosing.

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      • “Sounds like ordinary free will to me: deciding for yourself what you will do, free of coercion or other undue influence.”

        What sounds like ordinary free will? What you wrote after ‘:’, or are you describing something I wrote?

        “Now, I may presume perfectly reliable cause and effect in the coincidental causes, and you may presume that coincidental causes are truly random or chaotic.”

        I presume that some causes are indeterministic (and specifically for dice rolls I take it they are most often, at the least, deterministic). Being indeterministic means the effects are probabilistically constrained in a way that does not simply bottom out to more determinism. I don’t know what you mean by ‘chaotic.’ Indeterminism does not have to be chaotic, particularly when one potential (non-chaotic) event occurs with a high probability, or else when all the potential events are inadequately described as ‘chaotic’ (for example, maybe an electron is simply in another quadrant—but we know it will be in one of the four quadrants). And determinism does not imply order. We can imagine a universe (and perhaps we sometimes live in one) where all sorts of crazy effects follow from all sorts of mundane causes in ways that are completely deterministic. Consider a universe where the law of gravity changes from time to time for deterministic reasons. That would be quite chaotic!

        “generally speaking, your choosing is a deterministic event, where the outcome is reliably caused, but the most meaningful and relevant cause is you. The choice serves your beliefs and values, your purposes and reasons, and is the product of your own thoughts and feelings.”

        What’s the meaning of ‘perfectly reliable’—that the effect always occurs given a prior condition? Is this used differently from when you say just ‘reliable’—that the effect mostly happens given a prior condition? If an electron ends up in quadrant 1 with a probability of 51% given some prior conditions, is its occurrence there necessarily deterministic? What if, in reality, no further cause that makes it always occur (i.e. be ‘perfectly reliable’?) is to be found?

        “And even if all the factors are perfectly reliable, and your choice is inevitable, from any prior point in eternity, it remains an empirical fact that it was you that performed the choosing.”

        Did you mean anything substantive by ’empirical fact’?—I’m also thrown off by the “some spiritual structure of your own imagination” remark—do you mean that the fact is known by the senses, or by scientific experiment (or both)? I think the term you’re after is actually the one often contrasted with empirical—rational. I think you should say that it follows rationally. I don’t know how we’d ever be able to empirically establish any conclusion from prior points in time that extend back to eternity, but we can—and do—examine such notions in thought!

        Anyway, if your choice is inevitable, being fixed from the beginning of eternity, then the universe made your decision for you, long before you made your decision. But, speaking of empiricism, it would seem that the experience of making a choice makes no reference to this universe that is the prior determining vehicle of your choices. There is a universe—sure, but not one that confines your choices to be singular. We may come to have a notion against this one as we become rationally sophisticated and consider some theoretical deterministic notions of the universe (e.g. that it is like a clock winding down), but this is nowhere in immediate experience. The universe looks available to explore by any number of routes at any given time. It makes no comment on its pursuing one singular choice at every imagined fork since the beginning. So I rather think empiricism as everyday experience is on my side. Perhaps rationalism is ultimately on your side about your specific point, but that needs to be thoughtfully considered, as we’ve been doing. I think there are plenty of reasons, in addition to any empirical validation in quantum events, to think that indeterministic causal structures are explanatorily powerful in validating these more experiential notions of a world full of possibilities. Furthermore, the deterministic model must say, in the end, that the notion that the universe is open to all of these possibilities is illusory. It is not only open to just one possibility, it made that the only possibility all the way from the beginning.

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      • The center of the dispute is your claim that, “Anyway, if your choice is inevitable, being fixed from the beginning of eternity, then the universe made your decision for you, long before you made your decision.”

        The statement is literally false, because it is metaphorical. The universe did not make any decision for me. The universe, being an inanimate object without a brain, has no equipment to make decisions. And if you say it made the decision “for you” then the universe must also have some interest in me and what I do.

        Neither causal necessity nor causal inevitability implies that something other than me is making the decision. Rather, they imply that it will inevitably be me that actually makes the choice.

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      • Determinism as an inevitability “from any prior point in eternity” shows that all your choices in 2018 were set long before you were around. When you are confronted with some options today and you think, ‘maybe I’ll do this, or maybe I’ll do that,’ the universe picked exactly one of those choices all the way at the beginning. That you have an option here is illusory.

        “Neither causal necessity nor causal inevitability implies that something other than me is making the decision. Rather, they imply that it will inevitably be me that actually makes the choice.”

        The point is questioning that you have a decision at all. How can that be? There’s one singular option that will inevitably happen, and you cannot change that. It may seem to you that you can just choose one action or another, but the universe determined it was to be the later action before you were born. You couldn’t have chosen to do the former action. Indeed all type-identical prior circumstances will result in the later action, and never the former.

        “The statement is literally false, because it is metaphorical. The universe did not make any decision for me. The universe did not make any decision for me. The universe, being an inanimate object without a brain, has no equipment to make decisions.”

        Are you outside the universe? Are brains outside the universe? By the universe, I mean everything that exists. This includes brains, and this includes you. The point is that I do not have to dispute your point that you make a decision by saying it is not really you, since it is you, but by showing that you are not the only one that makes the supposed choice, since the universe determined it to be a singular result, long before you were around. So that you have an option, or a non-singular dilemma from which you can choose one or another, is illusory. You can only “choose” the singular result that was foreordained.

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      • One of the errors that creates a paradox is speaking metaphorically and then taking it literally. To see the metaphor, you need to make the implied “as if” explicit. Your statement here is literally false: “Determinism as an inevitability “from any prior point in eternity” shows that all your choices in 2018 were set long before you were around.”

        The fact that every event is causally inevitable does not mean that any event has already been caused. It only means that it WILL be caused after all of the prior causes that reliably bring it about have played out.

        None of my choices will ever be caused until I make the choice. They can, in theory, be predicted in advance, but they can never be caused in advance. So, what you meant to say was that “it was AS IF my choices were already caused”. And that makes the metaphor clear. It is still false, of course, because all metaphors are literally false.

        The same applies to this statement: “The point is questioning that you have a decision at all.” What you mean to say is that “it is AS IF you have no decision at all”. Both statements are literally false. We know this because there was a decision made, and I made it. That is the empirical fact. And an empirical fact is true, while the metaphorical statements are false.

        The same test applies to this one too: “but by showing that you are not the only one that makes the supposed choice, since the universe determined it to be a singular result, long before you were around.” How do I know? Well, ask yourself. Did the universe itself actually make this decision? If so, then how did it go about doing this? And why would the universe take such an interest in me that it would make this choice for me so far in advance?

        I expect you will object that you didn’t mean that literally. And if you do, then you should get the point.

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      • “The fact that every event is causally inevitable does not mean that any event has already been caused. “

        It’s true that the events of tomorrow are not today caused, but under determinism they are today determined. If you don’t think so, then how is it that “[Choices] can, in theory, be predicted in advance”? The reason is that tomorrow’s causes will not play out differently from today’s determinations. If they are able to play out differently tomorrow, then they are no longer determined today. And if that’s your view that they can play out differently, then you are at least implicitly holding to a form of indeterminism. And there’s nothing wrong with that (going back to before: being reliable appears in indeterminism, but so does being unreliable; but either is caused nonetheless; so I do think you still need to change your view about all causes being reliable, but we need some kind of working definition of this term to make progress here). But I suspect that you reject this and rather think that one choice or another could in theory be predicted with complete accuracy.

        To put my argument that determinism leads to an illusion in better focus:

        Premise 1: It sometimes seems that I can take one course of action (let’s call it A1), or that I can take another course of action (A2). And let’s say that I am in such a position tomorrow.
        Premise 2: From determinism, it follows that one of these actions that I seem to be able to take, let’s say that it’s A1, will happen, while the other action that I seem to be able to take, A2 will not happen.
        Premise 3: More than this, from determinism, given the prior conditions that are today and its totality of events, A2 cannot happen (tomorrow).

        Conclusion 1: Therefore, the course of action that will tomorrow seem to me to be capable of being taken up (A2) cannot be taken up.

        Do you reject this conclusion? If so, what is the flaw in the argument?

        “One of the errors that creates a paradox is speaking metaphorically and then taking it literally.”

        What is the paradox you think is created? Illusions are when reality seems to be a certain way, but it is not actually that way. Perhaps a stick looks bent to you in water, but it is not actually bent. This is not a paradox, just an illusion.

        “I expect you will object that you didn’t mean that literally.”

        I hope it is clear now that I meant what I said literally. I didn’t say that the universe ‘caused’ your choice all the way back in the past. I did say ‘set’ and I can see that this is ambiguous. By ’set’, I don’t mean that it was ‘causally produced’ in the past, but just that it was ‘determined’. This determination is so before it is causally produced by you. Again, if you take issue with this, then where? Really try and think about it. And point out the flaw, if any, in the explicit argument above since the conclusion there is my main point.

        An irrelevant point:

        “It is still false, of course, because all metaphors are literally false.”

        This is a great line for this blog that I may have to borrow—All metaphors are literally false. Given that this is true, could a metaphor be metaphorically false? But if it were metaphorically false, then it would have to be literally false, since all metaphors are literally false. So whatever sense we’d give to ‘metaphorically false’, it would have to switch to being literally false in describing a metaphor that way. If you know this blog, you know why I love this sentence. Such a result at least looks like a paradox. But the reasons in favor of the original line are not yet clear to me.

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      • Regarding predetermination: No event is “pre-” -determined, or -fixed, or -caused, until the last prior causes have converged to bring it about. The roots of the word “determine” suggest an ending. There can be no ending at the beginning. The term “predetermine” is an oxymoron.

        Nevertheless, all events will naturally unfold into a single inevitable future, AS IF the prior point had caused all the subsequent events. But it didn’t. And here’s why:

        Here’s a simple layout of the problem. Let’s start with any arbitrary state of the universe, and call that State1. The objects and forces in play in State1 proceed to bring about State2. State2 is significantly different than State1, otherwise it would still be State1. This new arrangement of objects and forces in State2 intereact to bring about State3. Again, State3 is significantly different than State2. Now, it was physically impossible for State1 to bring about State3. Only State2 was capable of bringing about State3. Only State2 could cause State3.

        State1 could not cause, fix, or determine State3. Only State2 was capable of causing, fixing, and determining State3.

        Regarding prediction: If you wish to know the future, here are three approaches:
        (A) Wait until it gets here.
        (B) Model all of the relevant events in a way that is faster than it takes in real time.
        (C) Use both. First, use (A), the wait and see, until you are near enough to the event to identifiy all of the relevant prior causes. Next, use (B) to predict the event by modelling from that smaller subset of prior causes. (And this is probably how all practical predictions are made).

        The paradox of prediction is that there is usually some reason why you wish to predict the event in advance. And that reason motivates you to change your behavior, such that any unfortunate events are prevented. The only utility of prediction is in the ability to falsify it.

        Regarding the “possible” and the “inevitable”:

        If you have two mutually exclusive, but mutually attractive options, A1 and A2, and either one could be implemented if you chose it, then both A1 an A2 are “real possibilities”. One of these two is inevitable. But both are possible.

        You “will” choose the one that is inevitable.You will not choose the other. Nevertheless, you “can” choose either one.

        To repeat: You are “able” to choose either option, but you “will” choose the inevitable one.

        The single inevitability will exist as an actuality in the context of reality. It has no meaning in the context of the imagination.

        The real possibilities exist only within the context of the imagination. This is the context for all concepts such as “can”, “could have”, “options”, “possibilities”, “able to”, and so forth. They have no meaning in the context of the actualities of the real world.

        Choosing is a mental process involving the imagination. The concepts inevolved in choosing revolve around imaginary scenarios. We imagine ourselves having an apple or a pear. We imagine how having the apple or having the pear will play out in terms of satisfying our tastes and hunger. In the imagination, we can have either one. We can choose either one. We are able to get either one from the fridge. We know we have both in the fridge, so both are real possibilities.

        From the imagination, we choose an option, one real possibility that we plan to implement into reality. As we implement it, it ceases to be a possibility, and is now the single inevitable actuality.

        Regarding metaphors: You comment reminded me of the paradox, “This statement is false”.
        “Could a metaphor be metaphorically false?” Geez. Brain strain. How about, “a metaphor is as if the statement were literal”. The other thing that pops into mind via train wreck of thought is a double negative.

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      • “Regarding predetermination . . . “

        Why do you say this?—a) That’s your term, not mine, but you’re basically implying that it’s mine; b) I now have to guess what you mean by it, since you don’t define it; and c) it looks as if it were part of some substantial point I previously made, but I can’t tell what it could be (since I didn’t use it). Are we having the same conversation?

        “The term ‘predetermine’ is an oxymoron.”

        Then why are you using it?

        “Nevertheless, all events will naturally unfold into a single inevitable future, AS IF the prior point had caused all the subsequent events. But it didn’t. And here’s why:”

        I checked and didn’t find the reason for this claim. “Here’s why:”—Where is the ‘why’?

        “Now, it was physically impossible for State1 to bring about State3. Only State2 was capable of bringing about State3. Only State2 could cause State3.”

        Is this the reason? I only see a claim that’s obviously false. It’s not physically impossible for State 1 to bring about State 3, it does so by first bringing about State 2. What reasoning are you using to come to your conclusion?

        For a close analogy, if I grab your hand so that you grab a stick and I then move your hand to hit someone else with it, can I say it was physically impossible for me to hit that other person because my hand only moved your hand, which was the hand that had the stick to beat the other person? And get this— even YOU could say that you had nothing to do with it, because even you are an intermediary here. You can tell the judge it was physically impossible for you to beat anyone, because you were just grasping the stick, which caused the stick to swing and hit the guy. So not only did the stick cause the beating, it was not physically possible for you (and me) to do so, your honor!

        “If you have two mutually exclusive, but mutually attractive options, A1 and A2, and either one could be implemented if you chose it, then both A1 an A2 are “real possibilities”. One of these two is inevitable. But both are possible.”

        Given the prior circumstances, let’s say you won’t choose A1. Now it’s impossible to choose A1. Either one could be implemented if you chose it, and . . . you can’t choose it!

        “To repeat: . . .”

        Repeating the line won’t make it sound any more reasonable. Repeating it actually makes it sound worse.

        “we choose an option, one real possibility that we plan to implement into reality.”

        Yes, and before the choosing, we think that the other option can be what we plan to implement into reality, but it cannot.

        “The paradox of prediction is . . . “

        I’m always on the lookout for paradoxes, thanks. So the paradox, if I follow: 1) We have a reason R to predict an event E in advance. 2) R is to prevent unfortunate events UE. 3) But, E = UE. 4) How we predict E/UE is to ‘wait and see’. 5) So we wait and see about E/UE so we no longer have to wait and see about E/UE. There’s something too this, pretty good. FWIW I do have a post on the Liar’s Paradox.

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      • The word “predetermine” literally means to “determine in advance”. When one speaks of the Big Bang determining today’s events, that’s “predeterminism” of the yesterday’s events determining today’s events, the concept is referred to as predetermination. Perhaps your reaction was to the suggestion of “predestination”, which would be something predetermined by divine intervention.

        State1 is the Big Bang.
        State2 is the formation of the stars and planets.
        State3 is two people getting married and having a baby.

        State1 cannot jump over, bypass, or otherwise avoid State2 in order to bring about State3.

        State1 can only become State2. State1 cannot become State3, only State2 can become State3.

        State1 cannot determine the nature of State3. Only State2 can determine the nature of State3.

        To say that State1 created State3 via State2 suggests that State1 had State3 in mind when creating State2. The universe at State1, lacking mind, cannot be planning to create State3. For that matter, it does not even plan to create State2. State1 naturally becomes State2. Then State2 naturally becomes State3.

        In your proposed analogy, of grabbing my hand in such a way that I grab the stick and forcing me to hit someone, there is a mind controlling the event, yours. You (State1) intended to hit the man (State3) by using my hand (State2). We can link the event in State3 to State1 by meaningful and relevant causation.

        This remains an unexplained implication, something that you are assessing intuitively, but not rationally: “Given the prior circumstances, let’s say you won’t choose A1. Now it’s impossible to choose A1.”

        It cannot be “impossible” for me to choose A1 prior to my choosing A2. The operation of choosing logically requires at least two real possibilities at the beginning and cannot resolve to a single inevitability until the choice is made at the end.

        A man comes into a restaurant. The waiter, unfortunately, is a free will skeptic.
        Man: “What are my possibilities for dinner tonight?”
        Waiter: “There is only one possibility, all other options are impossible.”
        Man: “Oh. Then what is that one choice?”
        Waiter: “How should I know? I’m not a mind-reader.”

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      • “Perhaps your reaction was to the suggestion of “predestination”, which would be something predetermined by divine intervention.”

        No, my reaction is your refusal to use the actual terms that I use, while implying that I used such terms. It looks like misrepresentation. We can avoid misrepresentation by being faithful to what is actually said, typically in quotes, rather than immediately spinning what is said to be something else. Especially considering how you were making some point about oxymorons, which is merely a linguistic property, one that is completely irrelevant when you do not actually use the term that is the oxymoron. Some things taste bittersweet (coffee with sugar), and pointing out that ‘bittersweet’ is an oxymoron in no way disqualifies that fact. It’s just a fact about how the word is composed.

        “The word ‘predetermine’ literally means to ‘determine in advance’.”

        Okay, great. Previously, I think you should have rather lead with something like: “In your view, you have prior conditions that determine outcomes in advance of their occurrence. This is obviously predeterminism. But there are lots of problems with such a view. To explain/illustrate….” And then when you explain potential problems, they need to be relevant to my actual position, not just to the word alone that you are using to substitute for my position (as when it is an oxymoron).

        To the substantive points you make:

        “State1 cannot jump over, bypass, or otherwise avoid State2 in order to bring about State3.”

        Agreed.

        “State1 can only become State2. State1 cannot become State3, only State2 can become State3”

        “Can only” is strong language. Why not think that State 1 becomes State 3 by first becoming State 2?

        “State1 cannot determine the nature of State3. Only State2 can determine the nature of State3.”

        Say I’m operating a crane. I pull a lever which raises a steel beam. How did I not determine that event? I determined the pulling of a lever, and the pulling of the lever determined the raising of the beam. But, by your claim, no determination can be made between me and the raising of the beam. Except, I obviously determined the fact of the beam’s rising. So your claim here must be false.

        “To say that State1 created State3 via State2 suggests that State1 had State3 in mind when creating State2.”

        Does this claim have anything to do with your using the term “created” instead of “becoming”? If so, I’m not talking about created facts. And becoming facts don’t imply minds. Does state 1’s becoming state 2 suggest state 1 had state 2 in mind when becoming it? Not at all. So why think there’s a mind with State 1’s becoming State 3 by first becoming state 2? It’s just a fact about how it becomes.

        “For that matter, it does not even plan to create State2. State1 naturally becomes State2.”

        And State 1 naturally becomes State 3 by first naturally becoming State 2. Or?

        “In your proposed analogy, of grabbing my hand in such a way that I grab the stick and forcing me to hit someone, there is a mind controlling the event, yours. You (State1) intended to hit the man (State3) by using my hand (State2). We can link the event in State3 to State1 by meaningful and relevant causation.”

        So change the example to be without people. Is that hard? A boulder dislodges from a cliff, hits a tree, which falls over, and blocks a stream. But the boulder didn’t determine anything at all about the stream’s being blocked! That’s not your view, is it?

        “It cannot be ‘impossible’ for me to choose A1 prior to my choosing A2. The operation of choosing logically requires at least two real possibilities at the beginning and cannot resolve to a single inevitability until the choice is made at the end.”

        If we take seriously, as I think I have, that “choosing logically requires at least two real possibilities at the beginning and cannot resolve to a single inevitability until the choice is made at the end,” then determinism amounts to revoking those two real possibilities at the beginning in favor of a singular will be. So what the heck are you talking about?

        What does the restaurant example show? It shows that we usually think of ourselves as having choices in everyday life. So?

        The ultimate point:

        I’m having trouble gauging how any of your new points are relevant to my previous argument about illusion. Indeed, given your views about causation, there are now way more illusory elements of experience. So let’s say you’re right that Sate 1 in no way determines State 3. Let’s say it’s physically impossible for State 1 to determine State 3.

        So when it seems to me I determine some event that is technically not an immediate consequence or production of my actions, this is all now rendered illusory. My seeing a steel beam move for my action is now illusory. I couldn’t have caused anything to happen to that steel beam. So any experiences that indicate otherwise are illusory, and this would go for any number of events that we typically take ourselves to cause (as whenever we use tools, for example). Any causal connection from hand to beam is physically impossible.

        But notice that my original point has been in no way been touched. We sometimes think we can do A, when, either it is physically impossible to do it (as you now claim), or the immediate causes (of the kind State 1 to State 2) determines another choice, which also renders A impossible to choose.

        So how do you win from any of your new points?

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      • If you are operating a crane (or operating someone else’s arm in the previous example) then you are the meaningful and relevant cause of what the crane (or the arm) does. The end result serves your interests, your purpose and your reasons. The Big Bang has no interest in these events. Physics has no interest in these events. Evolution has no interest in these events. And Determinism has no interest in these events.

        To suggest that anything other than you (assuming you’re a sane adult acting of your own free will) is the relevant or meaningful cause would be to create an illusion.

        There is no illusion involved in your choosing. There is plenty of imagination going on in your head as you play out each scenario before deciding what you will do, but these mental events are physical events taking place in the real world. That which is you is identical to that which is choosing.

        And none of this conflicts with the other fact, that every event taking place in your head and in your actions was causally necessary/inevitable from any prior point in eternity.

        People do not “just think” that they have choices. The choices are real, in that they are symbolic modeling taking place on the hardware of the person’s neurology.

        And when they observe themselves making choices, they can believe their eyes, because they’re really doing it.

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      • So you still think the falling boulder determined nothing about the stream being blocked, and that rather doing so is “physically impossible”?

        “…then you are the meaningful and relevant cause of what the crane (or the arm) does.”

        How am I a cause at all? As you would say, I can’t “jump over, bypass, or otherwise avoid” pulling the lever, in order to bring about raising the beam, and the lever is an intermediary between myself and the beam in the same way State 2 is between 1 and 3 in your illustration. Or are you now agreeing that State 1 is a relevant cause of State 3?

        “The end result serves your interests, your purpose and your reasons.”

        Irrelevant that it does! What IS relevant, is how I’m able to set that end result that serves my interests into motion, just by pulling the lever. How is it possible for you that I can fulfill my interests of raising a beam from pulling a lever? I mean, you realize there are all kinds of causal intermediaries between the lever and the beam. The lever works an engine which turns a wire around a pully which lifts the beam—approximately anyway (there are probably more lower-level causal intermediaries within these steps). Under your picture, the lever’s determining anything about raising the beam is physically impossible. So how does my pulling it accomplish the end I have in mind? Luck?

        “There is no illusion involved in your choosing. There is plenty of imagination going on in your head as you play out each scenario before deciding what you will do, but these mental events are physical events taking place in the real world. That which is you is identical to that which is choosing.”

        …and you cannot choose the other choice you might have had in mind that you could. As straightforward an illusion as anything could be! (An illusion is when what seems to be is not what is).

        “And none of this conflicts with the other fact, that every event taking place in your head and in your actions was causally necessary/inevitable from any prior point in eternity.”

        You’ve contradicted this view yourself. What is causal inevitability? That the events of today determine the events of tomorrow? If the universe can just do something different, or something regardless of what goes on today, then how are the events tomorrow causally inevitable? Are you seriously equating the appearance of an event, regardless of how it comes about at all, as causal inevitability? Why are you using that word when you clearly don’t have any meaning for it? Why not just say what happens tomorrow happens, without any further connection to what happens now?

        “The choices are real, in that they are symbolic modeling taking place on the hardware of the person’s neurology.”

        What sort of symbolic modeling? Do the symbols model that sometimes that I can choose A1, when it’s causally inevitable that I choose A2 (and not A1)?

        “And when they observe themselves making choices, they can believe their eyes, because they’re really doing it.”

        They do believe their eyes, and therefore they can. But it’s still incorrect that they can do besides what they do.

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      • The only illusion is the conflict. Ordinary people use both “free will” and “cause and effect” correctly. Only philosophers can manage to overthink themselves into nonsense.

        It is never anything but “that which is me” that is the meaningful and relevant cause of my deliberate acts. To image that reliable causation itself is an entity that pulls our strings is superstitious nonsense.

        When I see someone sit down in a restaurant, read the menu, and place an order, I know as empirical fact that 1) a choice was made and 2) the person made it. That is what we call “free will”.

        And it has nothing to do with freedom from reliable cause and effect, because if we go over and ask them, “Why did you order the salad instead of the cheeseburger?”, they will happily give us the reasons why that was the best choice. They will not tell us that they slipped away from physical reality and formed a will out of soul-stuff and then slipped back into reality to place their order.

        People are not having an illusion when they observe themselves making a choice, because they have in fact made a choice.

        And THAT fact is in no way contradicted by the OTHER fact that this choice was causally inevitable form any prior point in eternity.

        The only way they can contradict each other is by your own presumption, without evidence, that they must.

        I can observe both. And so can you.

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      • “The only illusion is the conflict. Ordinary people use both ‘free will’ and ’cause and effect’ correctly. Only philosophers can manage to overthink themselves into nonsense.”

        It’s called being consistent. If you can’t handle that, i have nothing further to say to you.

        “It is never anything but ‘that which is me’ that is the meaningful and relevant cause of my deliberate acts. To image that reliable causation itself is an entity that pulls our strings is superstitious nonsense.”

        What’s up with the mischaracterizations? How does something pull your strings to do A when you both want to do A and you have reasons to do A!? You are falling into the same trap that compatibilist’s claim libertarians fall into. Your wanting or reasoning to do A is what shows you’re not led like a puppet master (i.e. coerced) into doing A. You do now this, right?

        And can you just confirm: You’re saying here that you have never once had the thought in some instance that “that which is me” can do A and “that which is me” can do B, where A is not B?

        “When I see someone sit down in a restaurant, read the menu, and place an order, I know as empirical fact that 1) a choice was made and 2) the person made it. That is what we call ‘free will’.”

        How are these empirical facts? How do you know that a choice was made? Be specific.

        “And it has nothing to do with freedom from reliable cause and effect, because if we go over and ask them, ‘Why did you order the salad instead of the cheeseburger?’, they will happily give us the reasons why that was the best choice. They will not tell us that they slipped away from physical reality and formed a will out of soul-stuff and then slipped back into reality to place their order.”

        Haha, keep failing at reading what I wrote.

        “People are not having an illusion when they observe themselves making a choice, because they have in fact made a choice.
        And THAT fact is in no way contradicted by the OTHER fact that this choice was causally inevitable form any prior point in eternity.”

        You have yet to show this in any way shape or form that I can tell.

        “The only way they can contradict each other is by your own presumption, without evidence, that they must.”

        Without evidence? You agree with what terms mean and then you remain consistent. You have a fuzzy concept at best for what “causal inevitability” is. I showed this pretty well when you had to conclude that the boulder didn’t determine the river to be blocked.

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      • Loaded question. A boulder need have nothing in mind in order to determine an event. Indeed, you can determine all sorts of events accidentally.

        In your view, when a boulder hits a tree which blocks a stream, the boulder didn’t determine that the stream would be blocked, even when it was causally inevitable. But what made it causally inevitable that the stream would be blocked?

        I think an answer to this question would move the discussion forward better: have you ever thought in some instance that “that which is me” can do A and “that which is me” can do B, where A is not B?

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      • The point of the boulder question is that there is as yet no meaningful or relevant link between the boulder and the blocked stream. In what sense did the boulder “determine” that the stream would be blocked? We know that the boulder knocked down the tree. But it was the tree, not the boulder that blocked the stream. The boulder itself was not capable of blocking the stream. The stream was too wide, but not so wide that it could not be blocked by the tree.

        And what caused the boulder to roll down and knock over the tree? Was it sitting on the edge of a crevice, where rain had, over time, worn away the edge? If so, then one could also say that the rain determined both that there would be a stream and that the stream would be blocked!

        And what determined that there would be rain? Well, after hydrogen was cosmologically condensed into atoms of oxygen, it became possible for water to be formed by recombining atoms of hydrogen with atoms of oxygen, forming a new object, called water.

        And all this was of course determined by the Big Bang, that explosively decompressed and decomposed matter back into quarks again, which recomposed the stuff of the universe.

        The Big Bang itself was determined by the accumulation of matter in a number of black holes (found all over the place these days) which eventually converged into a singularity that finally exploded into a universe. How many times this has repeated is unknowable. But, eternity is a pretty long time.

        What I’m getting around to is this, out of all these possible points in eternity, what is your basis of choosing the boulder as the determiner that the stream would be blocked?

        Okay, now to the other question. Is it possible that I could have done otherwise? Could I have chosen A and not B, instead of choosing B and not A? Yep. I believe I’ve answered this once, but perhaps it was not clear.

        Just to be clear, your intuition tells you that “if it was inevitable that I would choose A, then it was always impossible for me to choose B”. And, yes, that is exactly what I am challenging.

        If it was inevitable that I would choose A, then no matter how many times we rewind the tape of time, it will always replay the same event. This I agree with.

        But what I am saying is that the semantic context of “possibilities” is different from the semantic context of “inevitability”. Because the contexts are entirely separate and independent, there is nothing about inevitability that has anything meaningful to say about possibilities. Inevitability has no implications in the realm of “possibilities”, “options”, or “can’s” and “cannot’s”, or “could’s” and “could not’s”, because all of these terms are only meaningful within their own context.

        The context of possibilities is the imagination. We confront some issue in the real world, and immediately begin thinking about how it might be resolved. We come up with two options: A or B. We can choose either one. So we first imagine how A will turn out if we were to choose it. Then we imagine how B will turn out if we select that option instead. During this process there might have been an option C, which, when we thought about it, would be impossible to implement if we chose it. So, C is not a real possibility. That leaves us with A and B, which are both real possibilities because we could implement either one if we chose to. Based on how we imagine that these two options will turn out, we decide to choose option A.

        So, was option B a real possibility or not? Yes it was, because, if we had chosen it, we could have implemented it into reality.

        Once we implement option A, it ceases to be called a “possibility”, and is subsequently referred to as an “actuality”.

        That actuality will have been causally necessary/inevitable from any prior point in eternity. However, it would not have been meaningfully “caused” by any of those prior points. It was meaningfully caused by the implementation of option A. And the meaningful and relevant cause of choosing option A, was the mental events that took place in our heads.

        Could we have done otherwise? Well, of course. If we had found option B to be better than option A, then we would have selected B instead.

        How can I say that? Because “could” throws us back into the context of imagination. And there is no room in the imagination for inevitability. Because trying to fit it there, breaks the process of choosing.

        One cannot begin the process of choosing with the concept of inevitability. Choosing requires multiple possibilities. They are part of the deterministic algorithm by which the final single inevitability comes about.

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      • “The point of the boulder question is that there is as yet no meaningful or relevant link between the boulder and the blocked stream. In what sense did the boulder “determine” that the stream would be blocked? We know that the boulder knocked down the tree. But it was the tree, not the boulder that blocked the stream. The boulder itself was not capable of blocking the stream. The stream was too wide, but not so wide that it could not be blocked by the tree.”

        Without the boulder’s being dislodged, the stream wouldn’t have been blocked. The boulder doesn’t have to do much in order to block a stream, it only needs to knock over a tree. Let’s change the picture slightly. If you have a row of dominoes, and a boulder knocks over just the first domino, why can’t these facts alone determine that the last domino will be knocked over before it does get knocked over?

        How else do we explain that, when the first domino is knocked over, it is causally inevitable that the last one will be knocked over? The prior circumstances of boulder’s hitting the first domino (and including maybe a sufficient surrounding area) set that what will happen is that the last domino gets knocked over.

        “And what caused the boulder to roll down and knock over the tree? Was it sitting on the edge of a crevice, where rain had, over time, worn away the edge? If so, then one could also say that the rain determined both that there would be a stream and that the stream would be blocked!”

        Yes. This is why we can speak of causal inevitability as going back indefinitely. The rain also determined that the stream would be blocked, and so did the prior events that caused the rain, and so on.

        “What I’m getting around to is this, out of all these possible points in eternity, what is your basis of choosing the boulder as the determiner that the stream would be blocked?”

        It’s not necessarily the determiner, but it’s a determiner. At the time of the boulder, and for what the boulder does in dislodging, what is fixed is that the stream will be blocked. You earlier said that State 1 doesn’t determine anything about State 3, but it does, it fixes what facts will happen—that is, we don’t have to already be at future events for those events to be fixed to just one particular outcome prior to their coming about.

        “Okay, now to the other question. Is it possible that I could have done otherwise? Could I have chosen A and not B, instead of choosing B and not A? Yep. I believe I’ve answered this once, but perhaps it was not clear….”

        The thought is right now I can do A or I can do B. It has to do with the capacity to actually do these things. The thought is not merely, I’m imagining doing A and then I’m imagining doing B, and so it’s possible that I do A and it’s possible that I do B.

        To explain the distinction, let me illustrate an actual capacity. An ordinary axe may be capable of cutting a block of wood, while a very dull axe may be entirely incapable of cutting a block of wood. These are the actual capacities of the axes to cut. In the same way, I consider some action A to be actually capable of being carried out by me. So if it is causally inevitable that all axes be dull, then it is impossible that an axe is actually capable of cutting wood. Similarly, if it is causally inevitable that I see action A as the best action to choose, then I am actually incapable of choosing B.

        From here, let’s go back to a thought, namely the thought that, regardless of how I felt or reasoned, I was actually capable of choosing B. If “how I felt or reasoned” inevitably leads to choice A, then I am just wrong that I am actually capable of choosing B. Sure I can imagine choosing B, but this is not the thought I’m having. I am thinking right then and there that I have an actual capacity to do B and an actual capacity to do A. So, I’m correct for A, but incorrect for B.

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      • Why the rolling boulder and not the Big Bang? Don’t both of these two events equally determine that the tree will fall into the stream and block it? Isn’t one just as meaningful as the other? And, if so, why wouldn’t we say that the Big Bang was the cause of, say, a traffic accident? Didn’t the Big Bang determine that the traffic accident would happen?

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      • Yes, so why not both? I’m not being exclusive. The point is that from the facts that are present, the future facts are set. So if the Big Bang were happening, there would be a lot of future facts that are set. But we can also recognize the present facts of today that fix future facts.

        We don’t say that the Big Bang is the cause of a traffic accident because there is a distinction between relevant and irrelevant causes, as you get at. But the distinction is not that the one determines while the other makes no determinations. Without the Big Bang, there would be no traffic accidents, and no traffic. But without your foot hitting the gas, there would be no this here traffic accident. So while the Big Bang determines (supposedly) literally everything, your foot does not determine nearly as much. So one ready difference is just the scope of the determinations made, and not that one has them and another altogether lacks them. Relevant causes may just have to do with causes that are closer to whatever effect is important to us, to prevent or make happen again, as the case may be. Indeed, prediction requires that present facts fix future facts reliably.

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      • It probably depends on what’s most important to people relative to their particular goals. But however we end up answering this in some general way, it won’t be that non-relevant causes determine nothing about the future.

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      • So, a person’s goals are also causally deterministic, just like the rolling boulder. And how the person imagines that they will go about achieving their goals, the options that they visualize, evaluate, and choose from, these too are causally deterministic.

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      • Determinism can only be true if it includes all three classes of causation: physical, biological, and rational. Including biological and rational causation allows for a chosen will. A chosen will raises the issue, “Who did the choosing?” If a person was coerced to do something against their will, then the choosing was done by the guy doing the coercing. If the person was free to decide for himself what he would do, we call that a “freely chosen will” or simply “free will”.

        Determinism can only be true if it incorporates human causal agency and free will in the overall mechanism of causation.

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      • “Determinism can only be true if it includes all three classes of causation: physical, biological, and rational. Including biological and rational causation allows for a chosen will.”

        Why do I have to accept this? This looks like a rather idiosyncratic position to take. Nonetheless, even if there is some reason to combine causes in this way and call it ‘determinism’, this is clearly not what I mean by ‘determinism’.

        By ‘determinism’, I mean what I wrote in my post: “Given the position of all things and their nature and interactions with one another, nothing about their future position and nature is unsettled.” That at any point in time all future facts are causally inevitable is perhaps another way to say what determinism is. Some version of this is what is typically meant in the context of determinism as theoretically discussed in the context of causation or free will. For example, find the entry on determinism (“Causal Determinism”) from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

        “A chosen will raises the issue, ‘Who did the choosing?’ If a person was coerced to do something against their will, then the choosing was done by the guy doing the coercing. If the person was free to decide for himself what he would do, we call that a ‘freely chosen will’ or simply ‘free will’.”

        Of course. Key word ‘if’. And we combine this with the thought that we do choose, and that we are actually able to do A, even when we actually cannot do A.

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      • You say, “Given the position of all things and their nature and interactions with one another, nothing about their future position and nature is unsettled.” So you are claiming that my choices, and especially whether I am free to make them for myself (free of coercion or other undue influence), does not matter?

        If we assume that every event is always causally inevitable, from any prior point in eternity, then why should that logical fact make any real difference to anyone, especially you?

        You say, “And we combine this with the thought that we do choose, and that we are actually able to do A, even when we actually cannot do A”. But we could have chosen A, if our reasoning led to the conclusion that A was the better choice. Right?

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      • “You say, ‘Given the position of all things and their nature and interactions with one another, nothing about their future position and nature is unsettled.’ So you are claiming that my choices, and especially whether I am free to make them for myself (free of coercion or other undue influence), does not matter?”

        How do you come to that reading?

        “If we assume that every event is always causally inevitable, from any prior point in eternity, then why should that logical fact make any real difference to anyone, especially you?”

        It should make a difference, maybe 1) because it would be the truth, 2) because we get along fine with making predictive models and explaining their abilities or inabilities to predict, sometimes based on whether or not determinism is true (e.g. classical mechanics assumes determinism is true). I actually don’t see what you’re driving at with this question. It also makes a difference if you enjoy doing things like comparing different theories about how the world works hang together. And noting inconsistencies in viewpoints can lead to productive changes and developments in how we think about our world.

        “You say, ‘And we combine this with the thought that we do choose, and that we are actually able to do A, even when we actually cannot do A’. But we could have chosen A, if our reasoning led to the conclusion that A was the better choice. Right?”

        Yes we could have, and we sometimes think “I could have chosen the salad if my desires were different.” Such thoughts can easily be correct. But that is not the thought I’m considering. The thought is “I am actually able to choose the cheeseburger here and now, everything else about me remaining as is (i.e. all my desires and reasons and so forth not necessarily being any different from what they currently are)”. Let’s say, I end up not getting it “here and now”. Maybe I wait a bit before eating. If we add that prior circumstances determined long ago that I would not get one right then and there, then I was just mistaken that I was actually able to.

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      • The question is not whether causal inevitability is true or not. I presume perfectly reliable cause and effect, at all three levels: physical, biological, and rational. But all of the utility of reliable causation comes from knowing the specific causes of specific effects.

        My question is only about this one single fact: (a) that every event that ever happens is always causally necessary and inevitably must happen.

        That’s the fact that you seem to think makes (b) free will just an illusion. How do you get from (a) to (b)?

        Also, regarding “we sometimes think “I could have chosen the salad if my desires were different”, I believe the “IF something were different” is always implied by “I could have done otherwise”. It’s just not spelled out, because people normally presume the implication, and it only has to be spelled out to free will skeptics and so-called hard determinists.

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      • “My question is only about this one single fact: (a) that every event that ever happens is always causally necessary and inevitably must happen.

        That’s the fact that you seem to think makes (b) free will just an illusion. How do you get from (a) to (b)?”

        The notion of free will is not entirely illusory. We do things because we want to. And had I wanted differently, I would have done differently. I take it that these are all part of the notion of free will and these notions are non-illusory.

        But I take it ‘free will’ also includes the notion that I am actually able to do some action (A) or other (B) in some instance. Here is how to get from (a) to illusion for this notion:

        From your (a), it will follow that one of these actions (let’s say B), I cannot actually do.

        So it would be illusory that I can actually do B.

        “Also, regarding ‘we sometimes think “I could have chosen the salad if my desires were different”’, I believe the ‘IF something were different’ is always implied by “I could have done otherwise”. It’s just not spelled out, because people normally presume the implication, and it only has to be spelled out to free will skeptics and so-called hard determinists.”

        Is “I was actually able to do B” ever implied by “I could have done B”?

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      • PR: “had I wanted differently, I would have done differently”

        Exactly. My contention is that “I could have done otherwise” ALWAYS implicitly includes an “IF I had chosen to” or “IF I had desired to” or whatever conditional is appropriately required.

        The inappropriateness of saying “I could have done otherwise is false”, comes from the fact that we have NEVER encountered in empirical reality a scenario where we can actually roll back time to a prior point, and get a “do over”.

        On the other hand, we can get as many “do over’s” as we like in our imagination. And that’s precisely where “I could have done otherwise” has its utility. We review past choices (especially when things didn’t turn out as we expected) to see what might have happened IF we had made a different choice. The utility is being able to learn from our mistakes. The result is that we make better, more successful choices in the future, a future where “I want differently than I did before”.

        Trying to introduce the concept of causal inevitability into this process breaks it. If we cut ourselves off from considering what we could have done differently, on the basis that “we couldn’t have done anything differently”, then we no longer learn from our mistakes.

        And if we introduce the concept of causal inevitability at the beginning of the choosing process, we break “choosing”. Choosing requires at least two real possibilities.

        Assuming reliable cause and effect, universal causal inevitability is a logical fact. The problem is that it is a meaningless triviality that is irrelevant to all practical scenarios. Thus, the reasonable mind simply acknowledges it, and then ignores it.

        PR: “From your (a), it will follow that one of these actions (let’s say B), I cannot actually do.
        So it would be illusory that I can actually do B.”

        Again, what you “can” and “cannot” do are matters that exist only in the context of one’s imagination, especially in the process of choosing. Your two options, A and B, must both be real possibilities, either of which you could implement, IF you chose to do so. At the outset of choosing, there can be no place for the concept of universal causal inevitability. Neither of these two options can be considered “illusory” at the outset. It literally breaks the logical process used to make the choice.

        And neither can be considered “illusory” at the end of the process, because, on a later date, we may want to consider what we could have done otherwise, in order to learn from our mistake.

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      • “My contention is that ‘I could have done otherwise’ ALWAYS implicitly includes an ‘IF I had chosen to’ or ‘IF I had desired to’ or whatever conditional is appropriately required.”

        Is this all it includes? If it also includes further implicit statements, then they would all have to be true for the sentence to be true (at least as it’s implicitly read).

        “The inappropriateness of saying ‘I could have done otherwise is false’, comes from the fact that we have NEVER encountered in empirical reality a scenario where we can actually roll back time to a prior point, and get a ‘do over’.”

        But we can have conditions that are type-identical to ones that were previously in place. We assume this in order to then make predictions on the basis of such conditions. We don’t have to time travel to distinguish further differences in causation.

        “On the other hand, we can get as many ‘do over’s’ as we like in our imagination. And that’s precisely where ‘I could have done otherwise’ has its utility. We review past choices (especially when things didn’t turn out as we expected) to see what might have happened IF we had made a different choice. The utility is being able to learn from our mistakes. The result is that we make better, more successful choices in the future, a future where ‘I want differently than I did before’.”

        I don’t follow how something can have utility only in the imagination. Utility should imply use outside of the imagination. Other than that nitpick, I don’t take any issue with what you say here and nothing I’ve said contradicts it.

        “Trying to introduce the concept of causal inevitability into this process breaks it. If we cut ourselves off from considering what we could have done differently, on the basis that ‘we couldn’t have done anything differently’, then we no longer learn from our mistakes.”

        Both of these can be true at once:

        *The concept of free will as you being actually able to do X is useful in regular decision making
        *You are not actually able to do X

        “And if we introduce the concept of causal inevitability at the beginning of the choosing process, we break ‘choosing’. Choosing requires at least two real possibilities.”

        How do we break it? We break it in that there are not actually two simultaneous courses of action capable of being taken, but we don’t break it in terms of desiring and reasoning what we want to do given two or more considerations about what we want or reason about doing. Perhaps the proper perspective to have is that you don’t know whether or not you’ll choose A (roughly: do A in the context of other considerations of what you want to do), but if you do, it’s because you considered the reasoning and found it to be a good option. This is still true even given causal inevitability.

        “Assuming reliable cause and effect, universal causal inevitability is a logical fact. The problem is that it is a meaningless triviality that is irrelevant to all practical scenarios. Thus, the reasonable mind simply acknowledges it, and then ignores it.”

        And this is fine.

        “Again, what you ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ do are matters that exist only in the context of one’s imagination, especially in the process of choosing.”

        No. I already addressed this. Things have actual capacities that we can talk about. See my axe illustration from a few posts back. It is this actual capacity alone that I am referring to when I say I cannot actually do something. And I think it is clear that we think about what we will do in terms of actual capacities.

        “At the outset of choosing, there can be no place for the concept of universal causal inevitability. Neither of these two options can be considered ‘illusory’ at the outset. It literally breaks the logical process used to make the choice.”

        How so? Why not just think that, because of causal inevitability, you don’t know which option you will take, but considering the results of taking up one option over the other usually leads to a decent answer about which option is best. You can still deliberate between different courses of action.

        “And neither can be considered ‘illusory’ at the end of the process, because, on a later date, we may want to consider what we could have done otherwise, in order to learn from our mistake.”

        But learning from your mistakes is about reassessing which option is best. You no longer believe the course of action you took is best, and so you probably won’t take it in the future. Nothing about this process of updating which option is best is broken.

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      • There’s no need to take causal inevitability into account when deciding what to do. Regardless, theoretical commitments can lead to the understanding that one option or the other is causally inevitable. And from here you might think that you do not know which one in fact is inevitable. None of this gets in the way of, nor needs to be actually brought up in, the reasoning process of assessing which option is the best.

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  3. The source of the single inevitable future, at least as far as human influence can reach, is the imagination. The single inevitable actuality arises from the consideration of multiple real possibilities, each of which we are able to choose, and if chosen, able to implement. These are our real capacities, which we exercise routinely every day.

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    • “The source of the single inevitable future, at least as far as human influence can reach, is the imagination.”

      I don’t know if I understand, but ok.

      “The single inevitable actuality arises from the consideration of multiple real possibilities, each of which we are able to choose, and if chosen, able to implement.”

      This strikes me as vague. What are we able to choose? We are able to choose A when we cannot actually do A? We are able to reason about A, and so do A if it is reasoned to be best? The latter is true while the one just before that is false.

      “These are our real capacities, which we exercise routinely every day.”

      Once again I’m not denying we have the capacity to deliberate about what we will do, just that we have the capacity to actually do what we cannot actually do.

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      • The fact that we WILL NOT choose A does not logically imply that we CANNOT choose A. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but it has to be correct to remain coherent. All “can’s” and their derivatives like “able” and “capacity” exist within the context of “possibilities” from which we “can” choose what we “will” do. What we “will” do, once done, will be the single inevitable actuality, a thing which we cannot know until we choose to implement it.

        If we knew it in advance, we would not have entered into the choosing process to begin with. So the logic of the choosing process requires imagining multiple possibilities, any one of which we “could” implement into an actuality IF we chose it.

        Free will is about our freedom to choose what we will do. So it is in that same set of concepts that constitute the logical process of choosing.

        When you say, “I’m not denying we have the capacity to deliberate about what we will do, just that we have the capacity to actually do what we cannot actually do”, it sounds like you are agreeing that we have the ability to choose (deliberation process) and then suggesting at the end that we cannot actually choose. And I’m finding that a bit incoherent, if I understand correctly what you are saying.

        Again, what I’m saying is that it would be correct to say that, if we choose A rather than B, then it will have been inevitable from any prior point. But we cannot say that it was “impossible” to choose B. Rather we can only say that we “would” never have chosen B.

        And that probably sounds incoherent to you. But its new.

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      • “The fact that we WILL NOT choose A does not logically imply that we CANNOT choose A. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but it has to be correct to remain coherent.”

        As an indeterminist, I by no means take it for granted the deterministic thesis that any and all ‘will nots’ were determined long ago. So I rather agree that the fact that I will to not do something (say A) does not imply I was unable to actually do it. I could have done it all the same, prior circumstances being the same. The difficulty as I see it comes by supposing both that I am actually able to do A, and that it was determined a while back that A does not occur. Being able to do A would seem to amount to being able to go against a determination that was made long ago. I cannot go against a determination made long ago, unless I have some form of indeterminism implicit in how I’m reasoning about the determination.

        “All ‘can’s’ and their derivatives like ‘able’ and ‘capacity’ exist within the context of ‘possibilities’ from which we ‘can’ choose what we ‘will’ do. What we ‘will’ do, once done, will be the single inevitable actuality, a thing which we cannot know until we choose to implement it.”

        Consider possibility just in terms of being able to do something. So I can swing an axe. What would I mean by this? I don’t mean just that I can imagine swinging an axe. I mean that, as I am now, I can start and finish all the steps required to swing and axe (1. Move toward axe. 2. Pick it up. 3. Wind it back. 4. Bring it forward). If my arms are broken, the thought that I can swing an axe can easily be false. But what if my lack of reasons or desire to swing an axe also keep me me from swinging an axe (per some theory)? What if not finding it to be the best option also prevents me from doing it? Meaning, if I had better reasons, I could swing an axe right now, but since I do not, I cannot swing an axe. (By the way, this is not how I really picture this scenario. My picture is that I can swing an axe regardless of my feelings or desires. But I believe I think like this due to my indeterminism, which views reasons and desires as mere influencers of a choice rather than as instigators that wind down to a singular option that is identical to what you choose. Please consider indeterminism!)

        “If we knew it in advance, we would not have entered into the choosing process to begin with. So the logic of the choosing process requires imagining multiple possibilities, any one of which we ‘could’ implement into an actuality IF we chose it.”

        I am reminded of Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground. Basically, the thing for one with free will to do when he learns of a causal inevitability is to do its opposite. If such a scenario were possible, it is fascinating to me how quickly the very notion of causal inevitability would be undermined. This idea was pretty influential in my taking determinism less seriously.

        “Free will is about our freedom to choose what we will do. So it is in that same set of concepts that constitute the logical process of choosing.
        When you say, ‘I’m not denying we have the capacity to deliberate about what we will do, just that we have the capacity to actually do what we cannot actually do’, it sounds like you are agreeing that we have the ability to choose (deliberation process) and then suggesting at the end that we cannot actually choose. And I’m finding that a bit incoherent, if I understand correctly what you are saying.”

        Yes, there is something apparently incoherent. To explain how it is not incoherent, we can point out that deliberating between options (A and B) may in some cases involve thinking that I can do A, and that I can do B (in the sense of swinging the axe just above), and noting what is likely to come about from the occurrence of each one. But thinking and noting are not identical with actual capacities (except to think and note). If they were, the person with broken arms can swing an axe merely by thinking about swinging an axe or by noting what would result.

        “Again, what I’m saying is that it would be correct to say that, if we choose A rather than B, then it will have been inevitable from any prior point. But we cannot say that it was ‘impossible’ to choose B. Rather we can only say that we ‘would’ never have chosen B.
        And that probably sounds incoherent to you. But its new.”

        Fair enough. Keep working at it.

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      • Doestoyevsky? Did I relate the story of my thought experiment in the public library? I was troubled at the idea that everything I did was inevitable. So I wondered how I could defeat it. The next time I have a choice, between A and B, and I feel myself leaning heavily toward A, I’ll just choose B instead. Simple! Inevitability defeated! But wait, my desire to defeat inevitability has just made B my inevitable choice. So now I have to change it back to A again. But wait…it’s an infinite loop! NO MATTER WHAT I CHOSE, INEVITABILITY KEEPS SWITCHING TO MATCH MY CHOICE. Hmm. So who’s choosing, me or inevitability? Apparently, it’s me.

        Anyway, that’s when I saw through the paradox. Universal causal inevitability is not an inevitability that is “beyond our control”, but rather one in which our choices and our control are essential parts of the overall scheme of causation. And that’s why I’ve also been insisting that determinism, if it is to be true, must be complete. It has to recognize biological causation and rational causation along with physical causation.

        Once we include rational causation and deliberate behavior, we have free will: the ability to choose for ourselves what we will do, free of coercion or other undue influence. Determinism without free will is fatalism.

        Indeterminism, to me, might be a source of variability, but not a source of freedom. For us to do anything at all requires a world of reliable cause and effect. By understanding the specific causes of specific effects, we gain the knowledge we need to control, prevent, or avoid events that might otherwise control us, like diseases. We have a single reliable vaccine for polio, but not for the flu virus. For the flu, we have to modify the vaccine every year to keep up with the variability in the virus due to natural mutation. So, we’re not yet free of the nasty effects of the flu.

        Oddly, I think it is incorrect to say that a prior state of the universe “determined” any future state. Rather the normal reliable behavior and interactions of the objects and forces that make up the universe continue to interact reliably and become the next state. I think it is a metaphorical error, one that we must correct with the explicit AS IF. It is AS IF the prior state determined the next state. But it didn’t. It actually BECAME the next state

        The threat to free will comes from the illusion that something other than us is controlling our choices. And that’s the original illusion that creates the paradox that seems to be spreading a lot of fatalism these days.

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      • One state becomes another, but is the state it becomes invariable across all repeated instances of that state? I am curious why you hold very strongly to determinism, which is a strict view in that it applies to all causes. Did you observe something that was undeniably deterministic, or did you hear an argument that was proof positive of determinism? One common deterministic trope is to think of a deterministic causal chain as being akin to a line of dominoes, where one falls into one and so on. In practice, though, experience with dominoes proves them to be finicky, and even a set-up that looks perfect can surprise you by leaving the final domino untouched in the end. Of course, perhaps there rather must be something fixable about the setup to bring it about next time. But human beings, and all life generally, are lightyears away from any simple dominoes model, and there is much going on at the electrical and quantum levels in our brains and biology besides. I am just wondering why the certainty about determinism being universal. Sure we want to control things like dominoes, and we usually can and do, but we it’s not clear to what extent human beings in their everyday environments are controllable in a deterministic sense. They don’t seem to be that way both in considering how one might control another, and in considering how one oneself might be controlled by another.

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      • The little -ism at the end suggests determinism is a matter of faith. Science, and problem solvers generally, embrace a belief in reliable cause and effect because it gives them hope that they might find the causes of events that affect our lives, and, knowing the causes, gain some control over them.

        Perversely, deterministic fatalism, the belief that something “other than us” is always in control, robs us of the initiative to take responsibility for our situation.

        Science will not abandon determinism, because to them that abandons any hope of finding causes. So, from my perspective, it seems necessary that we cut off the poison fruit of deterministic fatalism (also known as “hard determinism” and more recently as “free will skepticism”).

        When properly viewed, we remain the most meaningful and relevant causes of what happens next. And, although we did not create ourselves, that does not diminish in any way our ability to be ourselves.

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